Overlooked Causes of Headaches

Headaches Linked to “TMJ” Dysfunction

Patient and medical professionals often do not realize that tension headaches are some of the most common symptoms of “TMJ” dysfunction or TMD. One of the most common complaints of TMD is a headache accompanied by jaw, head, neck, and/or shoulder pain. Although the majority of migraines and TMJ headaches have various causes, they all have one thing in common … dysfunction of the temporal mandibular joint of the jaw.

Most headaches associated with the TMJ or jaw joint have two common attributes:

  • Tenderness in the muscles of the jaw, head, neck, and face.
    These hot spots in the muscles – called trigger points – create pain “wind-up loops” that cause headaches and referral pain patterns.
  • Teeth clenching (or bruxism)

Migraine headaches usually start in the forehead, temples, or back of the head. Those who clench or grind their teeth may also develop migraine-like headaches.

Night guards, often constructed by dentists, may help with those experiencing teeth clenching or grinding at night. However, it is important to note that most current research has shown that if a life-threatening disorder called obstructive sleep apnea is present and not being treated, the condition of apnea can worsen with the use of a night guard for grinding.

The Headache – Snoring/Apnea Connection

In most recent years, one of the most unrecognized causes of headaches involves that of airway breathing disorders. Some of the most common airway breathing disorders involves the diagnosed condition of obstructive sleep apnea(OSA), in which a person ‘pauses’ or stops breathing many times throughout the night. In OSA, oxygen dips, as well as increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood leads to a multitude of problems, including headaches. Some of these headaches can last well into the afternoon. We encourage all of our patients being treated for headaches to be screened for sleep breathing disorders prior to treatment to determine if OSA is a contributing factor in their headaches.


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